A long, long time ago, I can still remember how, that election had us all talking about sterling (well, some of us). Instead now we are hard put not to talk about mass dividend cuts, with Link Group estimating dividend cuts of 47% or more in the UK equity market. Way back in those distant epochs of early December 2019, we appeared to be approaching a greater degree of certainty about the shape of the future in the UK: an election was in the offing which promised to help resolve the outlook for our relationship with the EU and the rest of the world, and to clarify what kind of environment businesses would face going forward. At the time, GBP looked undervalued on the basis of the Economist’s ‘Big Mac’ index (a way of looking at the relative valuations of various currencies based upon the relative cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac in different countries). With signs that global investors’ positions in UK assets were starting to move towards normality from their previous large underweights, it seemed prudent to highlight that a rising currency could prove a headwind for dividend streams. With UK payout ratios (the proportion of earnings paid out as dividends) very elevated, and in general terms a roughly inverse relationship between UK corporate earnings and the strength of the currency, dividends funded by overseas earnings logically seemed somewhat vulnerable. Sure enough, following the general election we saw the GBPUSD rate move up to c. 1.35 in fairly rapid fashion (having traded below 1.30 since May 2019). Even so GBPUSD remained short of the ‘fair value’ level of c. 1.42 suggested by the ‘Big Mac’ index at the time, but there were certainly positive signals in sentiment surveys that suggested sterling was setting up for a more durable rally.
Companies: TIGT ASEI JCH CTY DIG SCF BRIG ASL
BlackRock Income & Growth (BRIG) targets growth in both income and capital over the long term. With an extensive team that also runs a successful open-ended UK equity income product, BlackRock have been running BRIG since 2012; the open-ended fund has successfully increased its distribution every year for the past 30 years. Whilst there is significant overlap between the trust and its open-ended relation, the managers, Adam Avigdori and David Goldman, are keen to take best advantage of the trust structure for this product. The managers have greater scope to invest in smaller, less liquid names, enabled by the closed-ended structure and relatively modest size of BRIG’s assets (c. £50m) enables, balancing opportunities for both capital and income growth - read a detailed overview of BRIG's portfolio construction. Income is an important feature of the trust, but the management team are equally concerned with growing distributions as with providing a headline yield. Whilst the portfolio’s overall level of income is considered important, not all stocks are expected to contribute to it. The managers seek to run a concentrated portfolio of around 40 stocks, and to ensure that stock-specific factors are the main driver of returns. Portfolio construction places stocks into three ‘buckets’: Yield & free cash flow opportunities; Growth opportunities; and Turnaround opportunities. The portfolio is heavily weighted towards the first category, but around 20-40% will be held in the latter two buckets, which the managers believe can help drive capital growth. Recent performance has improved, driven in large part by stock-specific factors, with previous sector headwinds proving less of a factor in 2019 thus far. BRIG has successfully grown its dividend under the stewardship of Adam and David, with total growth significantly outstripping inflation since BlackRock took over management of the trust. The present yield of c. 3.6% is well covered, with sizeable revenue reserves. Click here to find out more about the trust's dividend policy. The board operates an active discount control policy, looking to buy back shares tactically when the trust is trading on a discount to net asset value (NAV), and reissue them from treasury when the trust is at a premium. This has helped contribute to reasonably constrained discount volatility, as we discuss in more detail here.
Companies: Blackrock Income & Growth Invt Trust
All leaderships come to an end at some point. With investment trusts, however, it is rarely the electorate (aka shareholders) who initiate the change in manager. In some cases it is the board. In others, it is the management company itself recognising the need for a new manager, and replacing them before the board feels the need for more decisive action. A change instigated by the board will often result in a transformative outcome for a trust, perhaps with a change in management house as well as personnel. Changes proposed by the management company itself can be just as transformative, but can also be subtler. The aims are always the same: to improve performance for shareholders, and to stimulate demand to bring in the discount, or grow the trust through share issuance. Last week witnessed one of the more dramatic changes of manager in recent years. On 29 November Baillie Gifford effectively took control of the portfolio of European Investment Trust, one of the last remaining value trusts in the sector. The mandate being awarded to Baillie Gifford (the pre-eminent growth investment house) represents a significant change for shareholders, and comes after several years of a growth bull run. Time will only tell whether the board’s decisive (and dramatic) switching of horses will prove correct. In this article we reveal the results of a detailed analysis on how effective past manager changes have been for investment trusts.
Companies: JAM BRNA BRIG MWY
It used to be said that in central London you were never more than six feet from a rat. Nowadays, the saying has been updated: you are never more than six feet from a Pret-aManger. Before Pret came McDonald’s, serving the same burgers in the same buns from London to Tokyo. Such was the ubiquitous nature of the fast food giant that in 1986 The Economist launched the ‘Big Mac Index’. Presently, this famous index of relative currency strength suggests sterling is seriously undervalued  . Sterling has certainly been weak since the 2016 Brexit referendum, and remains c.12% below its level on the day before the Brexit vote. Yet it has climbed c.8% from its lowest point in August (as of 26 November) as a no-deal Brexit appears to be off the table. We believe a more sustained rebound in the currency could be on the horizon – at least, assuming the Conservatives win the general election. This could be good news for those owning UK assets but, for UK companies with overseas earnings, it might make meeting and growing dividends more challenging. For UK large-caps in particular, a further rise in sterling could lead to dividend growth being weak, given the large proportion of those companies’ earnings are derived from overseas. Open-ended equity income funds will have no protection against this, but it is exactly the sort of environment where the closed-ended structure can shine. By being able to build up revenue reserves, investment trusts have the ability to build up a safety net against this sort of eventuality, as we discuss below.
Companies: SCF JCH BRIG CLIG ASEI
BlackRock Income & Growth (BRIG) has twin aims of providing a rising dividend, but also growth in capital over the long term. Whilst BlackRock has only been running the trust since 2012, the team behind it has a much longer pedigree. They have run the same investment process for over 30 years, and (according to BlackRock) the BlackRock UK Income fund holds the impressive record of being the only UK OEIC that has increased its distribution each year for 30 years. Speaking to co-manager Adam Avigdori recently, he commented on how well suited the trust structure was to their approach. He highlighted that a closed-end fund puts a manager in an ideal position to take controlled risk, and allows them to have strongly held views through a cycle. He feels this aids their investment approach, and together with the relatively small size of the trust currently (£46m of net assets) gives them a competitive advantage over peers, with huge flexibility to buy or sell companies of all sizes. As such, Adam believes BRIG is an ideal vehicle to deliver dividend growth for investors. As we discuss below, since 2012 the team have grown the trust’s dividend by 4.7% a year and built up a reserve equal to a year’s dividend. Adam and David employ a high-conviction approach to stock picking, with the portfolio expected to have between 30 to 60 holdings at any one time - currently numbering 43. The team buy companies purely on an opportunity led basis, but try to provide some diversification across the portfolio through allocating across three “buckets”, defined by the broad type of investment opportunity. Yield and free-cashflow is typically expected to be the biggest allocation, of between 60-80% of the portfolio, currently 68%. The team also look for growth opportunities, expected to be between 10-30% of the portfolio, currently 23%. The final bucket is turnaround situations, expected to be between 0-10%, currently 9%. A key differentiator to many other competitor funds and/or trusts is the multi-cap approach. Using the advantages conferred by the closed end structure and the relatively small size of the trust, the team opportunistically venture into the small and mid-cap (SMID) sphere where they have particularly high conviction – with no official maximum weighting. Currently c.18% of the portfolio is in SMID stocks, mostly found in the growth bucket of the portfolio. Performance over the past five years is impressive, with the trust c.8% ahead of the benchmark but also beating the average investment trust peer by 4.6% and the average open-ended peer by 10.6%. 2014 and 2015 were both very strong years of outperformance, but 2016 proved to be a more difficult environment – with miners rallying hard – an area which the managers have had a long term underweight. Over the past 12 months (to 23 May 2019), BRIG is behind the FTSE All Share by 0.6%. Several stock specifics impacted the portfolio last year, which have so far more than been made up for by calendar year performance to date. Outside of total returns, BRIG’s raison d’etre is to provide a growing dividend over time. As such, since being awarded the mandate in 2012, the BlackRock team have grown the trust’s dividend by 4.7% a year and built up a reserve equal to a year’s dividend. The trust’s headline yield of 3.7% is modestly lower than the UK Equity Income sector weighted average of 3.9% (source: JPM Cazenove). This reflects the manager’s desire to deliver sustainable dividend growth over time, which is evidenced by the impressive earnings growth delivered by the portfolio since BlackRock took over management of 7.7% pa. The board has been employing an active discount control mechanism for over five years, and the discount currently stands at a historically wide level of 5.6%. Over time, discount volatility has been relatively low, with the trust’s discount having been broadly in-line with the UK Equity Income sector.
Today, we introduce our investment trust ratings. According to the quantitative screens we have selected in an attempt to highlight the best performers in the closed-ended universe, the trusts discussed here have been the best in their classes over the last five years. We have selected trusts using two different sets of criteria, aiming to identify the top performers for capital growth and for achieving a high and growing income. There are many rating systems for open-ended funds, but no quantitative-based system for investment trusts that is available to the average investor. While we cannot identify trusts which will perform well in the future – past outperformance is no guide to future out-performance – we hope these ratings will highlight the outstanding performers in the closed-ended universe and those managers who have best used the advantages of investment trusts to generate alpha. We are trying to reward consistent and long-term outperformance, and so we have decided to look over a five-year period. All data is as of the end of December 2018, sourced from Morningstar and JPMorgan Cazenove. We have looked at NAV total return performance and discount value has not been considered: the aim is to identify those trusts which have performed the best rather than highlight bargains.
Companies: IPU FAS ATR JEO FEV FGT THRG SEC PAC BRSC IAT HNE MIGO TRY JMG DIVI SLS BGS SDP JETI SOI BCI MRC TIGT EDIN JAGI BEE SDV BRIG AAIF HFEL SCF SIGT BRFI IVPG CTY HINT JCH NAIT
BlackRock Income & Growth (BRIG) has twin aims of providing a rising dividend but also growth in capital over the long term. The managers have an over-riding focus on earnings growth and free cashflow. In their view, free cashflow is the fundamental backdrop for sustained dividend growth. They don’t want to see portfolio companies paying dividends “at all costs”, as they believe often this will be at the expense of future growth. The managers employ a high-conviction approach, with the portfolio currently numbering 43 stocks. A key differentiator to many other competitor funds and/or trusts is the multi-cap approach. Using the advantages conferred by the closed-end structure, the team opportunistically ventures into the small and mid-cap (SMID) sphere, where they have particularly high conviction (currently 27% of the portfolio is in SMID stocks). Whilst BRIG itself is relatively small with total assets of £54m, the mangers also run the £400m open-ended BlackRock UK Income Fund. The team’s portfolio turnover of c 40% p.a reflects their view that they have the best of both worlds - the luxury of being nimble, but with the huge resources of BlackRock behind them. BRIG’s key differentiating factors relative to the OEIC is the gearing facility, and an extended ability to buy small-caps. Having formally ratified the investment process in 2013, the team got off to a very strong start outperforming the benchmark by a considerable margin over the first couple of years. In 2016 they gave back some of this performance thanks to their underweight in miners, but since then have broadly kept up with the benchmark – not a mean feat given its strength. At the time of writing, the shares yield 3.3%, which is below the average of the peer group. However, in terms of revenue generation, the team has generated earnings per share growth of 8.7% per annum since being awarded the mandate. The team believes that this is testament to their focus on cash generation, robust balance sheets and trusted management to ensure the long-term sustainability of the dividend. As a result, since 2012 the board has been able to pay a rising level of dividends, delivering a compound annual growth of 4.7% and at the same time, building up significant revenue reserves which (as at the last report and accounts) constitute a year’s dividend (6.6p per share). This means that the board has plenty of room for manoeuvre should the portfolio suffer an earnings shock. The board has run an active discount control mechanism since 2013, which has resulted in relatively low discount volatility. As such, the trust typically trades close to NAV, and currently stands on a discount of 2.1%.
Income has for a long time been top priority for British investors, stripped of the traditional source of income that a savings account once represented by a decade of negligible interest rates. But with bonds in a parlous state and the wheels finally coming off the buy-to-let bubble, the range of options available is increasingly narrow. Equities have for some time now been the beneficiary of this search for yield and equity income funds have done very well on the back of this, attracting huge inflows. However, as we have highlighted in the past, many of them are investing in just a small range of companies and those companies are themselves increasingly stretching for yield - putting this refuge for the income seeker on somewhat thin ice. With all this behind us, and mounting uncertainty about the current rally in front of us, where then is a sensible place to find it?
Companies: JCH IVI EDIN BRIG IVPU SOI BEE
Using a total return investment philosophy, BlackRock Income & Growth aims to provide growth in capital and income over the long term by investing in a portfolio of principally UK-listed equities. The managers set out their investment philosophy clearly in mid2013, and have followed the same process continuously since then. Whilst there has been some turnover in the “lead-manager” position, there has been continuity in the approach of the 13 managers contributing to the process. The team operate with a relative concentrated portfolio, currently 46 names with slightly higher turnover than average, reflecting the team’s rigid active investment process and price targets. Currently, the portfolio is biased towards high-quality stocks that are delivering strong free cash flow via sustainable, organic means. In addition, 20% of the portfolio is invested in ‘growth’ names, and 10% in what the team view as ‘turnarounds’. Whilst BRIG itself is relatively small with total assets of £55m, the mangers also run the £400m open-ended BlackRock UK Income Fund. BRIG’s key differentiating factors relative to the OEIC is the gearing facility, and an extended ability to buy small caps. Having formally ratified the investment process in 2013, the team got off to a very strong start outperforming the benchmark by a considerable margin over the first couple of years. In 2016 they gave back some of this performance thanks to their underweight in miners, but during 2017 have broadly kept up with the benchmark. At the time of writing, the shares yield 3.4%, which is below the average of the peer group. However, the board have built up revenue reserves of 1x the dividend, which potentially puts the trust in a good position given the ambition to consistently grow the dividend over time. The team have grown the distribution of their open-ended fund ahead of inflation for over 30 consecutive years now. The board have run an active discount control mechanism since 2013, which has resulted in relatively low discount volatility. As such, the trust typically trades close to NAV, although currently stands on a discount of 5%.
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Trading in the royalty partner portfolio over Q1/21 shows a material rebound from May, which has been sustained to date, as the portfolio as a whole returns to more normalised trading. Consequently, Duke's cash receipts, while down 20% YoY currently, are set to step up in H2/21 as forbearance measures largely expire and deferred royalties realised. This bodes well for a rebound in earnings and a return to cash paid dividends. A share price down over 55% since Feb 20, standing at p/book of 0.56x H1/20A's NAV p/s thus appears overdone. We await further clarity on the portfolio before reissuing forecasts, thus leave our recommendation U/R.
Companies: Duke Royalty
L&G reported an operating profit from continuing divisions (excluding Mature Savings and General Insurance businesses) of £1,128m, -2.2% yoy. The COVID-19-related cost was £129m. LGR posted a growing operating profit to £721m. Net profit amounted to £290m vs. £874m a year before, being affected by the reduced discount rate used to calculate LGI reserves. The Solvency II ratio stood at 173%. The Board recommended an interim dividend of 4.93p/share, stable relative to H1 19.
What’s new: Purplebricks Group results for the year to 30 April 2020, show the Australian and US units as discontinued; but include the Canadian unit sold for C$60.5m (i.e. £35m) in July. Investors will focus on the UK unit which revealed:
11% fall in UK revenue to £80.5m (FY19: £90.1m), as the number of instructions fell 23% (impacted by early Covid uncertainty and lockdown), but the average revenue per instruction “ARPI” rose 12% to £1,394;
UK gross profit margin improved to 64.1% (FY19: 63.0%);
UK marketing costs to revenue improved to 25.6% (FY19: 29.6%);
Spend on Digital capacity pushed UK operating costs 32% to £26.2m (FY19: £19.9m), as new management team pursued initiatives which are being “delivered at pace with significant opportunity for further innovation.”
UK adjusted EBITDA fell 53% to £4.8m (FY19: £10.2m).
Companies: Purplebricks Group Plc
For this Monthly, we are delighted that Rooney Nimmo and 24Haymarket have allowed us to reproduce a recent report they jointly published, entitled An analysis of UK exits (2015-2019), which provides a granular analysis by sector of the activity in our dynamic private companies world. We hope you find the insights of interest.
Companies: AVO AGY ARBB ARIX CLIG ICGT NSF PCA PIN PXC PHP RECI SCE TRX SHED VTA
H1 20 operating profit declined by 12% to £1,225m and the COVID-19 claims impact was £165m. Cash remittances from business units to the group was only £150m. The insurer said that it will focus on the UK, Ireland and Canada, which means an exit from other European and Asian markets. The Board has declared a second interim dividend in respect of the 2019 financial year of 6p/share and will inform shareholders about the 2019 final dividend in Q4 20.
Companies: Aviva Plc
Since the restrictions were lifted in mid-May, Belvoir has seen a surge in activity due to pent-up demand, resulting in June being a record breaking month for the group’s Newton Fallowell estate agency network in terms of instructions and sales and the financial Services division in terms of written income. Management have stated that with the positive impact of the stamp duty reductions still to take effect they are confident that the Group is well positioned to capitalise on the current market upturn and to take advantage of the opportunities arising from more challenging conditions. We have upgraded our PBT forecasts for FY 2020 to the level we forecast pre-COVID. We have also upgraded our target price from 169p to 233p and highlight that H1 2020 has demonstrated the resilience of the group, management’s ability to navigate difficult market conditions and the power of the franchise-led strategy.
Companies: Belvoir Group Plc
We believe now is an interesting time to invest in Northgate, with a new executive board and a capable management team in place who have already delivered progress on an ongoing turnaround as we await a full strategic review. The group now has a clear and well communicated capital allocation strategy in place and improved earnings quality, in our view. We believe that the growth opportunity in the UK, the value of the Spanish business and the progress made to date with the turnaround are not being reflected in the share price, which is currently 15.9% below book value (414p per share in FY19A rising to 468p in FY22E). We use a variety of valuation methods including P/B, SOTP, DDM and DCF modelling and arrive at an average implied share price of 450p, 29.0% above the current share price.
Companies: Redde Northgate Plc
Vacancy strongly increased in Q2 20. LTV surpassed the 50% mark on 30 June 2020 due to strong value destruction in H1 20. Hammerson announced a £550m cash capital increase coupled with a disposal of £270m. Its ex-post pro forma net debt should be £2.2bn, i.e. LTV of 42% on a proportionate basis. Too high?
Companies: Hammerson Plc
Today's update highlights that despite the Covid-19 outbreak and UK/IRE lockdown, which has affected trading, Duke has continued to collect cash royalties from most of its royalty partners. Short-term alternative payment terms have been agreed with those partners hardest hit, to support them to periods where royalties can be fully recouped. Therefore the 61% fall in p/b from 1.3 (at 20 Feb) to 0.5 today, appears overdone.
The group’s earnings surprise was driven by goodwill impairments. On the negative side, management upgraded, albeit slightly, its full-year loan impairments guidance and warns about revenue and CET1 pressure. It also reckoned that the tensions between the US and China will impact the group.
Companies: HSBC Holdings Plc
The Law Debenture Corporation (LWDB) has reported another strong set of results for its independent professional services (IPS) business in H120, with EPS growth remaining in the target mid- to high single-digit range despite a more challenging economic backdrop. With the trust’s largely UK investment portfolio having been hit by the widespread stock market sell-off in February and March, IPS has provided a larger than average contribution to revenue returns. This means fund managers James Henderson and Laura Foll can continue to search for attractive total return opportunities in a broad range of sectors, while maintaining LWDB’s focus on both capital appreciation and above-inflation dividend growth.
Companies: Law Debenture Corporation
Despite challenging market conditions, Picton’s Q121 DPS was well-covered by EPRA earnings and robust portfolio capital values. Combined with low gearing, NAV per share was just 1.3% lower versus Q420 and including DPS paid, the NAV total return was -0.6%. With encouraging rent collection data continuing and the lockdown easing, we have reinstated our estimates and look for the quarterly DPS run-rate to increase in H221.
Companies: Picton Property Income Ltd.
Duke delivered significant YoY growth in H1/20A results, as earlier efforts to broaden the royalty portfolio came through this year. This strong growth will continue with recent debt & equity raises forward funding investments to income levels of £15m by FY21E. Met with an enhanced, but now stabilised cost base, operational leverage should drive continued strong adj EBIT growth (to £13m, at a c85% margin) and further DPS rises.
The scaling of Duke's royalty portfolio was progressing as expected up to March 2020, with record cash receipts that month. Due to Covid-19 and the UK's economic shutdown, macro conditions have worsened and become highly uncertain. This is likely to see some royalty partners' future cash royalties decline, which in turn, will negatively impact FV's in the FY20E results. Duke's high margin and cash generative nature ensures it is well placed to trade through these challenges. Given the degree of uncertainty in outlook, we remove forecasts and put our recommendation Under Review and await further clarity on the portfolio.
Raven’s positive trading update was reassuringly robust, despite ongoing uncertainty regarding the long-term impact of Covid-19 on the Russian market. We believe that kind of performance deserves attention, although we plan to reinstate detailed forecasts post (a) the General Meeting scheduled for 31 July, which will decide upon proposals designed to create a simplified capital structure (outlined below) and (b) the interim results due in August.
Companies: Raven Property Group Ltd.